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Dog Training Update: Herding Challenges

Despite having ZERO time to read for pleasure lately, I’m making my way through a sheepdog book that our herding trainer recommended. It’s called Talking Sheepdogs: Training Your Working Border Collie (by Derek Scrimgeour).

While the book primarily deals with training a working / herding dog from puppyhood, I figure its good to know things from the ground up.

I still have a lot more reading to do (even though it’s a short book, just 128 pages, with lots of illustrations and diagrams), but here are two things I wanted to share.

Herding Dog Training: Trust and Understanding

In a chapter called “The Special Relationship,” Scrimgeour says, “My way of training relies on the tone, volume and insistence in your voice or whistle rather than physical pressure applied to your dog.

“Firstly you will have to set aside your ego and your own (human) interpretation of why certain things happen that may irritate or please you. Instead you will have to learn to read your dog and recognize what he has to cope with and his reaction to it.

Instead of adding additional pressure to your dog when he is already confused or worried you must be the one he relies on to make things easier for him to understand. If you can do this he will learn to trust you. In fact, he will begin to think he needs you. This is when a really special relationship begins to happen.

” The first step is to get rid of thoughts such as ‘This dog is trying to defy me.’ If this was the case then why would he do anything for you in the first place. In fact, the dog that appears to be defiant and disobedient is more likely to simply be trying really hard to guess what you want. You job must therefore be to help your dog control the sheep and give very clear advice to him when he has reached a position where is his relaxed enough to listen.

[emphasis mine]

dog blog, dog training, champion of my heart, herding dog, border collie

Herding Dog Training: Uh-Oh

The later chapters go on to explain how to move your own body and help control the livestock so that your dog is more successful doing his job.

I suppose it isn’t all that different from using your body in agility to cue which obstacle is next or when you plan to cross in front of or behind your dog … except, of course, the obstacles aren’t alive and don’t move.


If Lilly needs to rely on me to improve in herding, then I have a LOT of work to do. Maybe I should start calling these … Shepherd Training Updates.

Herding Dog Training: Our Next Lesson

I literally did not take off a single day in March. On weekends, even, I worked long days. So far, April is looking pretty full … including a trip at the end of the month to speak about blogging at the American Society of Journalists and Authors Conference in New York City.

(I hope to see Sam and Marge while I’m there.)

So, I’m not sure when I’ll have time for our next herding lesson, but as the weather (finally) warms up, I look forward to giving it another try.

Stay tuned!


You can catch up on our herding adventures here:

Lilly’s Big Year

Lilly’s Herding Instinct Test, Part 1

Lilly’s Herding Instinct Test, Part 2

Lilly’s Herding Instinct Test, Part 3

Lilly’s Herding Instinct Test, Reflections

Lilly’s Herding Lesson #1, Part 1

Lilly’s Herding Lesson #1, Part 2

Lilly’s Herding Lesson #1, Part 3

Lilly’s Herding Lesson #1, Part 4

Lilly’s Herding Lesson #1, Part 5

Lilly’s Herding Lesson #1, Reflections

Herding Insights

Lilly’s Herding Lesson #2, What Went Well

Lilly’s Herding Lesson #3, What Didn’t Go Well

Roxanne Hawn

Trained as a traditional journalist and based in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, USA, I'm a full-time freelance writer for magazines, websites, and private clients. My areas of specialty include everything in the lifestyles arena, including health and home, personal finance and other consumer interests, relationships and trends, people and business profiles ... and, of course, all things pet related. I don't just love dogs. I need them in my life. Seriously.

Amy@GoPetFriendly - April 11, 2011

I think the advice provided by the author is wonderful. It applies to all our training endeavors with our dogs – way beyond just herding. Also, my sympathies for your recent loses and congratulations on the new additions!

KenzoHW - April 10, 2011

Looking forward to more herding stories and shepherd updates. The quotes you took from the chapter also described why dog sport in general is so rewarding. It strenghtens and builds the partnership with your furry friend.

Melanie Haiken - April 9, 2011

The challenge for me with my herding cattle dog is that when we hike with a group, she runs back and forth from the front to the rear of the group, and on narrow trails this can be annoying and even dangerous, as people trip over her. Any suggestions?

    Roxanne Hawn - April 9, 2011

    I completely understand, Melanie. Many dogs (even those w/o herding genes) like to keep the group together during off-leash hikes. Because Lilly and I so often do our training time just the two of us, having Tom along sometimes throws off the whole dynamic.

    My only advice would be to teach your girl a couple of cues that mean either stay behind me or go on ahead. That way, you can steer her a little bit during group outing.

    We also use a cue called OFF TRAIL, which means step off the trail and sit as others pass (other hikers, mtn bikers, other dogs, horses, etc). That might be useful for your situation.

Aly - April 8, 2011

Sounds like a great read! Does it say anything about how to deal with dogs that just want to grab hind legs and pull the stock down?

    Roxanne Hawn - April 8, 2011

    I’ll let you know, Aly, if I come across ideas on that particular issue.

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